CAMDEN — Mark Senders, new owner of the Francine Bistro building on 55 Chestnut Street in Camden, has a long association with the former restaurant run by chef Brian Hill.
Senders, who is current owner of The Bagel Café on 25 Mechanic Street in Camden and the Big T Snack Shack operating part-time out of the Camden Snow Bowl’s concession area, recently purchased the building from the Lookner family. He is seeking a new tenant for the former restaurant.
“I had a long history with Leonard Lookner and with Francine Bistro under Brian Hill,” he said. “In the last 10 years, I’d worked at Peter Otts, then left to work for Brian at Francine with the vision of helping open Shepherd’s Pie in Rockport. Once we opened that, I worked at Shepherd’s Pie for under four years. Then, my wife and I purchased the Bagel Café. After we had a little girl, we needed to switch up to a day-time schedule because working long nights in a kitchen was no longer an option. So, now we’re on our fifth summer at the Bagel Café and it is going great.”
With his current workload, he chose not to open a new restaurant himself in the location; instead, he is planning to offer it to a year-round restaurateur tenant, who would put his or her stamp on the iconic Camden location.
Hills had closed Francine permanently last fall and departed from Camden.
“The niche that Francine provided was something really needed in our community,” said Senders. “It’s a nice, small, locally-centered restaurant, which would be manageable by a chef-owned operator. I don’t have any pre-conceived ideas what a chef should do with the place, but I’m really hoping word of mouth reaches the right person. I’d like to see it rented by someone who lives locally and wants to operate an evening restaurant year-round. I’m not trying to get anyone to duplicate what [Hill] did, but a good, small restaurant is really needed in this area.”
Senders has worked on some renovations to the restaurant space to get it ready for a new tenant, including ripping up the kitchen floor, installing new plumbing and laying down a new concrete sub floor.
“We’re getting everything ready so it will be solid and worry-free for the next 20 years,” he said.
Having graduated from the New England Culinary School in 2000, Senders has spent 19 years as a chef in the Camden area, where he and his wife, Becky Neves, grew up. To consolidate his efforts, Senders recently closed the Belfast Bagel Café location to concentrate running the Camden location as well as a new summer Big T Snack Shack hours at the Camden Snow Bowl with several Maine brews and ciders, as well as a light snack menu on Mondays and Wednesday nights starting at 6 p.m. with mountain bike demos run by Side Country Sports.
Penobscot Bay Pilot will update this story when a tenant for the location has been found.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org